Book 6 – Chapter Thirty-Eight

Taveth looks over at the demon hunter and frowns. “Grim? Are you okay?”

The demon hunter shrugs a shoulder, face toward the wall. “I guess. Just have a terrible headache is all. Are you?”

Taveth sighs. “I think I should tell Ana.”

Grimory knits his brow at the wall. “And what will that accomplish?”

Taveth lets out another long breath. “Koltira doesn’t deserve her,” he says quietly. Then, louder, he says, “Anything I can do to help your head?”

Grimory sits up on an elbow at the first comment, then purses his lips at the second. “Tav, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll forget about it, yeah? I’d hate to see you get your head caved in.”

Stays quiet for a long time, his mind racing. “I’m not afraid of him.”

Grimory’s eyelids lower and he too remains quiet for a long beat. “You’re outta your mind. Don’t come crying to me when you become death knight food.” He lies back down.

He narrows his eyes over at the other man. “I’ll be fine.” He shrugs and leans back to stare at the ceiling. “So, nothing I can do to help you. Got it.”

“Right. It’s just a headache. I’ll live, yeah? Just need some rest.”

Taveth crosses his arms and huffs in frustration. He decides to say nothing as his mind digests the advice of not saying anything to the mage. He grumbles and gets up, taking his journal and pen into the side room, writing in it to occupy his time while the fire slowly heats the bath water.

~~

Anarchaia stares into the ether for a long time, a thumbnail between her teeth and a troubled look on her face. It’s many minutes before Jorick nudges her ankle with a boot. She blinks down at him in a slight daze.

“Thought I’d pull you back to reality. You okay?”

She nods tentatively. “Just…weighing our options.” She sighs and stands. “None of them are very good. I think I’ll take a bath to clear my head of the negatives.” She steps into the next room, the curtain falling behind her, then jumps and covers her eyes. “O-oh! Tav. I’m sorry, I honestly didn’t know you were in here. ”

Taveth stares at the mage for a long time, his shirt in his hand, thankful he’d already secured his trousers. After a moment, he smiles. “That’s okay. I was just finishing up, anyway.” He grins in a strange sort of way, exuding much more confidence than he ever has in his entire life. Instead of pulling on his shirt, he approaches her, taking a soft lock of her white hair between his index finger and thumb. “Kind of wanted to talk to you, anyway.”

She lowers her hands, but only just enough to see him over the tips of her fingers. Her brow knits slightly at the uncharacteristic smile on his face and she blushes. Her eyes flick from his fingers—inches from his face—back to his. “About what?” she inquires nervously, forcing a smile.

 “I’ve come to realize…” he moves even closer into her personal space, his hair dripping down his bare, pale chest, “that I love you.” He lifts her chin with his fingertips to angle her face toward his. “You can’t tell me you don’t feel something, too. Your past self sure did.” He smirks, playing with the urge to kiss her.

Love?!” Her blush intensifies and she stammers, too confused to pull away. “I-I wanted to talk to you about that—I mean—I thought—y-you—” She shakes her head and takes a hesitant step back. “What’s gotten into you?”

Taveth slips his hand at her waist and tries to pull her back to him. “Please. I’m serious. I would never lie to you, you know that. Nothing’s gotten into me, I just… It’s you, Ana. You’re the one.” He smiles sweetly at her and brushes her hair from her face. He bites his lower lip as his lavender eyes sparkle with wonder, as though looking on her is akin to beholding paradise.

She releases a ragged breath, unsure of how to react. The cords in her neck tighten as she swallows once, but her feet refuse to move. “N-no. Something’s wrong with you. You’ve been charmed. Something…”

His brow furrows at her and he frowns as he shakes his head. “I’m insulted you would think so little of me. I’ve always loved you, just not quite like this. Last night was just a wake-up call, I guess.”

She bites her lower lip as he leans closer. “T-Tav, I really do like you—y-you’re one of my best friends and I don’t want this to get weird—but I-I was a different person back then—horny, confident, and single ,” she says quietly. “I’m sorry if I misled you…”

His jaw clenches tight as his lips purse. “He doesn’t deserve you.”

She blinks rapidly for a brief second, her breath hitching in her throat. “I’d like to think that’s for me to decide. Besides, I thought you liked Grim.”

Taveth shrugs apathetically. “I did. But, if I’m being honest, that ended months ago. He’s just a good friend.” His expression turns sad as he remembers the night before and his eyes find her lips. “Feelings change,” he whispers.

“They do, b-but…” She hesitates but still does not pull away. Her hands come up to his chest, yet do not push. “Y—…you could get in trouble.”

He shrugs and pulls her as close as her hands on his skin will allow. “I’m not scared.” In an instant, he decides to just go for it, and presses his lips against hers, sighing in satisfaction.

Anarchaia makes a quiet noise of surprise. Her eyes widen. Her fingers tense against his chest but she finds she cannot muster the will to push him away. Instead, her body relaxes and her eyelids flutter shut. No, why aren’t I pushing him away? I…I think I…like this

Taveth’s kisses grow slightly more passionate, his fingers threading into her hair and pressing into her waist. The curtain pushes to the side and a dark-nosed Koltira stands on the other side. His eyes narrow on the two. Taveth opens his eyes but doesn’t pull away from the mage in shock. Instead he calmly straightens and meets the death knights angry glare.

Furious, Koltira surges forward, shoving the mage to the side. His drunken fingers thump against the other man’s chest as he tries to grab a shirt that isn’t there. “What the fuck—” he wraps his icy fingers around Taveth’s throat, “is going on in here?”

“You don’t deserve her,” Taveth says, a hint of fear in his eyes, though he stands his ground.

Anarchaia scrambles back to her feet after being shoved into the wall. She lurches forward to grab the death knight’s free arm with both her own. “K-Kolt, wait! It’s not what it looks like! Don’t hurt him, please!”

Koltira’s fingers tighten on Taveth’s neck until the pain causes the man to reach up and scratch at the death knight’s hand, trying to get free.

“So you weren’t kissing him? Because that’s what it looked like.” He shakes her from his arm and lifts the high elf until his feet no longer touch the floor. “You slimy little fuck!” he shouts.

Anarchaia wrings her hands nervously. “I-I mean— he kissed me …but he’s not himself! Don’t kill him!” She grabs at his arm again, tears in her eye. “Kolt, please!”

Baemalen stumbles into the room, just as intoxicated as the death knight, then sobers the slightest bit at the sight. “Uh…calm down?”

Just as Taveth’s eyes flutter and roll back, Koltira releases him. He bends over and rests his palms on his knees, sucking in large gulps of air. The death knight, again, shakes the mage from his arm and turns to leave.

“Oh, I almost forgot. Taveth,” he says.

The high elf looks up in time to see a large blue fist coming straight for him, and then he’s sprawled on the floor, unconscious.

Koltira clenches his fists, his entire body rigid with anger as he stares at Anarchaia. He opens his mouth to say the most hurtful thing he can think of but thinks better of it and instead leaves the room.

The mage’s hands fly to either side of her head and she grips her hair. “ T-Taveth! ” Her wide, wet eyes meet Koltira’s and she braces for the worst, then gasps in a mix of relief and anguish when he says nothing. She drops to Taveth’s side when they’re alone. “Tav! Tav are you all right?!”

Baemalen bustles after Koltira. “Woah, hey, wait! What happened?”

Grimory, tired but alert appears in the doorway. “What’s going on?” he grumbles.

“Just your boyfriend putting his hands where they don’t belong,” Koltira growls as he pulls another bottle from the cabinet.

The demon hunter’s eyelids lower and he rolls his eyes. “Told him what would happen,” he mutters and returns to his hammock.

“Wait, what?” Kel’ori asks with a small laugh.

“Fuck off, Nightheart.” The death knight stomps from the building to go seethe.

 “Warlock boy got a face full of fist,” Baemalen slurs, half amused and half forlorn.

Jorick lifts his eyebrows in his corner, secretly happy over the strife between the two. He whistles. “Yikes.”

Kel’ori scrambles to her feet, leaving the infant alone on the floor. “T-Tav? Oh my gods.” She runs to the back and stares wide-eyed at the scene. “Is he okay? What the hell happened?” She sets her fingers on his purpling cheekbone and cringes at the coming black eye.

Anarchaia scowls at the woman in front of her and scoops Taveth up and away from his sister. “ You happened! I don’t have proof, but I know it was you!”

Excuse me? I was in the other room! You did this to him, you little…hussy!” Kel’ori reaches over to slap the other woman.

~~

 Jorick looks up as a shadow fills the doorway; Alisbeth fidgets, looking frightened and nervous as she averts her gaze. “Oh, hey. Lost puppy found its way home. Welcome back to the madness.”

Alisbeth chews on her bottom lips. “I used the bath,” she blurts, as though admitting a sin.

Jorick narrows his eyes. “Several miles away, or…?”

Alisbeth fidgets, still acting skittish. “Okaybye.” She strides out of the doorframe and back around the side of the house.

Jorick blinks slowly. “All right, bye.” He stands and goes to the other room. “Death knight girl is back if anyone cares.”

Grimory perks. “Ali? Is she okay?”

The human nods. “Jittery as always.”

~~

Anarchaia gasps as she’s struck. She tries to collect herself, but her anger and stress boil over almost instantaneously. She turns back to Kel’ori, a glare etched onto her face. “I suggest you get out of here before I do something as stupid as you just did.”

Kel’ori narrows her eyes. “Is that a threat?”

The air around the smaller mage grows noticeably heavier. Her scowl deepens. “If it has to be.”

“He’s my brother,” Kel’ori hisses.

“That makes what you did even worse,” Anarchaia hisses and gets to her feet. “You know, I really thought you’d changed since having your life saved on Argus, but you’re still the most miserable, petty, obnoxious bitch—just like the others in the Hall.”

Kel’ori sneers at the woman. “I didn’t do anything. Maybe if you weren’t such a prude I wouldn’t seem so bad. But no, you’re just a goody-two-shoes spoiled little brat.” Her magic wraps around Taveth’s unconscious figure. “All of this is your fault. You should leave, before you make things worse.”

Anarchaia lets the unconscious scholar be taken up by his sister. “Fine.” A tear rolls down her cheek and she turns away, the pressure in the room dissipating. “You cost me the only person who actually cared for me despite what I am. I’m sure you can handle the rest of the trip yourself.” Her form swirls and disappears in a flurry of violet sparks.

Kel’ori frowns after the other mage. “Shit.” She takes Taveth into the other room and lays him in a free hammock, cringing at his eye. “Let me know if he wakes,” she says—Grimory grumbles in response— then rushes back to take the half-eaten toy from Bel’theas. She releases a heavy, exasperated sigh down at him as he objects loudly.

 Baemalen ungracefully sets himself down at her side. “You okay?” he says, smile unwavering.

Kel’ori purses her lips at him. “No. I’m not okay.” She turns away to hide the moisture pooling on her lower lids. “Just go find your drinking buddy or something. I don’t need your pity.”

Baemalen’s smile grows the slightest bit reserved and he pulls his ears back. “I, uh…don’t think he wants anyone around right now. And I’m not trying to pity you…” He sets a cautious hand on her shoulder.

“If that…caveman seriously injured my brother, I’ll…” She takes a deep breath and looks up at him. “You’re drunk. Go sit down.”

The Illidari gives a small, inebriated chuckle. “I think he’ll be okay. Getting cold clocked ain’t the end of the world.” He sighs. “Though maybe caveman does need some sort of support, too…”

Kel’ori looks away, ignoring the guilt in the pit of her stomach. “He didn’t have to hit him.”

He gives a second, more uncomfortable chuckle. “Well. He’s had an entire bottle of bourbon. I’m sure it was the only option he thought he had.” He makes for the door with a strange drunken grace. “I’m going to check on him. Be right back.” He makes his way outside and searches the surrounding area, using the building for support until he finally finds the death knight near the wood pile in the back. “You doin’ okay?”

Koltira glances up at him. “Yeah. Sure. Peachy.” He takes a long swig from the bottle and glares at the horizon.

The Illidari lowers to sit on his haunches and smiles sympathetically. “Wanna talk about how peachy you feel?”

“Just getting tired of other assholes coming for the women I love. Is that so bad?” he holds out the bottle to the other man.

Baemalen falls back to sit on his hind end instead and gladly takes the bottle. He hums a laugh and drinks. “Y’know. As long as pretty girls exist, there’ll be assholes—like myself—there to tell them they’re pretty.” He winks and relinquishes the bottle again. “I don’t know either of you that well, but I’m sure you’ll work something out.” He gestures to the building behind him. “You and him, that is.”

“It’s just very…not like him. That’s what gets me. It was like someone was wearing a Taveth suit.” He puts his face in his hands and lets out a long breath. “Maybe I shouldn’t have hit him.”

“I don’t know him well enough to say if you’re right or not.” Baemalen shrugs a shoulder. “And you didn’t kill him, at least. If it were my girl, I’d have done the same to be honest.”

Koltira sighs and leans his head back. “You mean Kel?” He smirks and quirks an eyebrow up, his eyes on the other man.

 He gives an embarrassed smile and more color is added to his drunken flush. “Nah, she’s too pretty to be interested in someone like me. Besides, she’s got a lot on her plate already. No room for a drunken failure.” He chuckles.

“She fucked a goblin. Pretty sure you’re not uglier than that. Plus, you never know.” He pushes a gentle fist to the man’s chest. “Maybe just drink a little less and try a little harder not to fail?”

The Illidari lifts his eyebrows at the goblin part, then chuckles. “Easier said than done, my friend.” His grin widens. “But I’m sure you have plenty of luck with the ladies. Plenty of fish and all that.”

Koltira gives a humph of a chuckle. “Once upon a time. Not since I died, though. Don’t want the others, anyway.”

~ * ~

Taveth opens his eyes, squinting at the ceiling. “Ow.”

“Told you so,” Grimory grumbles, half awake from his hammock.

Taveth rubs at his forehead with his palm. “Told me what?”

“You’d get your shit rocked,” Grimory mumbles in response.

He squints at the ceiling. “I vaguely remember something like that… A little. Maybe.” The elf leans up to look around. After a second his eyes go wide. “Oh, gods, Ana. Where’s Ana?”

Grimory sighs, clearly more interested in sleep than drama. “I don’t know, Tav. Somewhere around, I’m sure.”

Still dizzy, Taveth lays back. “You feeling okay? Anything I can do to help?”

Grimory shakes his head. “I’m fine. Maybe you should go make amends with the two of them before you get turned into a death knight, too.”

Taveth groans dramatically. “You’re saying none of that was some horrible nightmare? Ugh. Is that what it’s like to have someone else controlling you? It’s awful.” He shakily gets out of the hammock and purses his lips down at the man. “Let me know if I can get you anything. Have a nice nap.” He goes into the other room.

Grimory grunts in response. “Some booze might be helpful,” he mutters after the scholar walks away.

“Kel? Where’s Ana?”

The mage looks up at him and frowns. “She yelled at me and left. You’re okay!” She stands to fuss over him and he slaps her away.

“You’ve never given a damn over my wellbeing in your life—”

“That’s not true!”

“—so why start now? Did you do something?”

She scoffs and goes back to the carpet, where Bel’theas is taking an impromptu nap. “What on Azeroth could I have possibly done, hmm? Can’t I just worry about you from time to time?”

“No. Do you know where Koltira is?”

“Outside somewhere,” she snaps, pointing him out the door.

 Taveth stops at the open cabinet, grabs a random bottle, and returns to Grimory. “Here.” He sets it in the man’s hands, then shuffles out the door to retrieve his shirt from the bath room and go outside to find the others.

Grimory looks at the bottle, then groans and sits up to pop off the cork. He takes a drink and sighs. “Oi, dragon boy. If you can hear me, would you mind getting rid of this illusion? Kind of sick of it.” He takes a drink and catches his reflection in the broken mirror across the room. “It’s not me anymore.” The visage of his old self melts away, leaving the man he’s come to know sitting in its place.

Taveth rounds the corner and pauses, immediately looking away from the death knight. “I-I… Uh. Koltira—”

“Oh good, I didn’t kill you.” He stands, swaying the slightest bit. “Look, I’m sorry I—”

“No, no. You had every right. I have no idea what happened. Truly. Apparently you knocked it out of me, though. Heh. N-not attracted to Ana anymore.” He cringes at the awkward memories.

After a long, silent minute, Koltira steps forward and grabs Taveth as the elf flinches away, then sets his cold hand over his eye. “Then I’m sorry I hit you so hard.”

He twitches nervously. “Heh. Pretty sure your softest punch would still knock me out.”

Koltira looks at the man still sitting in the dirt. “You should go talk to Kel.”

Baemalen chuckles at the two and stands, brushing off his pants. “Right. She was pretty uppity last I talked with her a few minutes ago. Guess I can check.” He pats Taveth on the shoulder as he passes and wanders back inside to find the mage on the floor beside her child. “You more okay now?” he asks quietly.

The mage gives him a tired smile. “Just overwhelmed. Sorry. At least Tav is okay.” She looks at the door when no one else comes inside. “Get sick of them already?”

He returns the smile and sits with her. “Nah. I just don’t like seeing people in pain, y’know?”

A tall, blond figure steps in from the sleeping quarters and, bottle in hand, makes for the front door.

“Woah, wait! Who…?” Baemalen’s eyes widen when Grimory turns to look at him. “Hey, you got hunky. Is that what you normally look like?” he slurs.

The other’s eyes flick between the three of them and he nods before turning back for the door.

“Spooky,” Baemalen says as he turns back to Kel’ori.

Grimory makes his way around the back of the building, ignoring the other two men outside, and throws open the cellar door. He steps down, then stops when he sees two blue lights in the shadows. “Had a feeling you’d be down here.”

 Alisbeth blinks up at him, then quickly slaps a shackle around her ankle. “I won’t leave again… Your horns are back.”

Grimory shakes his head and lowers to sit on the last step. “I don’t care that you left. Well—I do—but not that you escaped, yeah?” He drinks. “Where did you go?”

She fidgets with the chain. “I walked you back to the temple. Where you belong. Don’t you remember?”

Grimory winces at the pain as he tries to recall, then shakes his head. “I don’t. But…thank you. I’m sure I appreciated it.”

She nods eagerly. “Good. It worked. So you don’t remember me? From this time?”

Grimory shakes his head again. “No.” He groans as another pain pierces his head. “And it hurts to think about. Where did the other Ali go?”

Alisbeth shrugs. “She said something about fixing everything. Asked you some stuff.” She sniffs and suddenly starts crying. “Are you still mad at me? Everyone hates me. You hate me. I just wanted to be alive again. Why is that so wrong?”

Grimory shakes his head. “I don’t hate you. I’d do the same thing.” He sobers. “And I thought it was you who hated me …”

She turns her head away, her fingers plucking at the chain links. After a moment she sucks in a breath and holds it. “I don’t remember why. But if you want, I can keep hating you.”

Grimory gives a faint laugh. “I don’t remember, either.” He sighs and stands. “Guess we can move on then, yeah?” He offers her the bottle.

Alisbeth turns her head away from the bottle and pulls her knees up to her chin, the chain clinking in the dirt as she moves her ankle. “I’m not happy. And I’m still mad. You hurt me, Grim. I don’t remember what happened, but I will. I just need to think about it. I just need to remember why looking at you hurts so much.”

Grimory frowns and lets the bottle fall back to his side. “I’m not sure what I did, either. But I’m sorry. You know I’d never hurt you on purpose. “

“Then you hurt me on accident, I guess.” She looks up at him, studying his posture and the sudden wear on his face. “You look sad.”

Grimory inhales slowly, then sighs. “Yeah. I am. But it’ll pass.” He sits beside her. With a morphed claw, he rips the chain binding her from the wall. “I just want to get this all over with and pretend like it didn’t happen.”

Despite how she feels, Alisbeth curls into his side. “I miss Diori.”

Grimory nods slowly. “Me, too. And our bed.”

Alisbeth sighs into his warm side and closes her eyes. “Maybe if you apologize then we can be happy when we go back.”

He gives a hollow laugh. “I did technically apologize but I can’t say how sincere it is since I have no clue what I’m apologizing for.”

“I’ll let you know when I remember,” Alisbeth says.

Grimory nods. “Fair enough.”

~ * ~

 “You think I’d look good with horns?” Baemalen asks Kel’ori.

The mage purses her lips. “Not if it requires you to share your body with a demon,” she says softly, turning her gaze away from him.

Baemalen’s smile fades the smallest bit. “It’s not as bad as it sounds. Plus, those who can’t handle it just die anyway.” He laughs quietly but is clearly uncomfortable.

Kel’ori gasps, her gaze snapping to him. “That’s not better! Why would you want either of those options, Bae? Why do you want to go back?”

For once the smile leaves his face and he groans, running a hand through his hair. “I don’t know. It’s what I’m here for, y’know?” He sobers and sits back on his hands. “And I don’t have anywhere else to go. Not that anyone else would take in such a huge fuckup.”

Kel’ori stops, her mouth agape. Then she slaps the back of her hand against his chest. “I asked you if you were going to come back with us! But you said you wanted to go back to die or go insane, apparently.” She slaps at him again. “Don’t be such a jackass!”

He flinches at both strikes, then rubs at the spot with a palm. A pout pulls at his lips. “Back with you? I thought you meant…back here. I don’t think I’m allowed back to your time.”

She pouts as well. “And why the hell wouldn’t you be?”

He shrugs a shoulder. “Wouldn’t there be two of me then? Sounds like a big deal.”

Kel’ori frowns, her throat going dry. “I haven’t been around Grim very long, but, you say you’re best friends…” She clears her throat and shakes her head. “I never met you until we got here. Either you two have a falling out or…”

Baemalen’s eyes widen slightly and his brow furrows. “O- oh. I guess that’s what I get for running off on my own. Heh.” He sobers. “I guess I’ll take it up with Venny…maybe.”

She shakes her head. “Maybe.” She goes to say something else, but can’t find the words, and so stays quiet.

Baemalen studies her face when she looks away. He bites his lower lip and glances at the baby sleeping on the furs. “I…suppose it couldn’t hurt.”

She nods and shrugs as though playing off her own vested interest in the matter. “Yeah. Whatever you want. I’m sure it would make Bel happy.”

He blinks, then smirks devilishly. “Oh? Just Bel? You’re certain you don’t care what I do?”

“Do you care if I care or not?” Kel’ori asks with a prodding smirk.

“Yes,” he replies curtly and with an air of false arrogance. “Unlike some people I’m pretty honest with my feelings.”

She gives an exaggerated laugh. “And what exactly are your feelings?”

He smiles wide. “Well. I really like you and would hate for this to be the last we see of each other.”

Kel’ori smiles and bites her bottom lip. “I really like you, too. Why do you think I…really want you to come back with us?” She reaches over to carefully set her hand on his.

Baemalen’s smile widens and he turns his hand to wrap his fingers around hers. “Because Bel likes me?”

She smirks and squeezes his hand with hers. “No…but that helps. Why do you like me?”

He lifts his eyebrows. “Fishing for compliments, are we? Well I’m happy to oblige.” He ticks his reasons off on his fingers. “You’re talented, beautiful, sassy, a great mother, a good cook…”

Kel’ori’s smile grows as he lists her qualities. “Is there something wrong with enjoying compliments? I bet you wouldn’t object if I told you that you’re charming, handsome, witty, sly,” she says that one with a nose-wrinkling grin, betraying her excitement over his crafty ways. “I wouldn’t mind seeing you work a poker table one day.” She pushes her shoulder against his and smiles sweetly. “But you’re not a ‘bad boy’ like all the rest. Not the kind that’s gotten me in trouble in the past, anyway.”

He flushes and scratches at his neck as he turns away. “Guess I can’t argue with that. My poker face is on point.” He turns back to smirk at her. “And you were into bad boys, eh? No one’s said I can’t be one. Or that I’m not already one.”

“Oh, but I don’t like bad boys anymore. Like I said, they’re nothing but trouble. Liars. Cheaters. Always instigating fights. No, I just don’t see you being one of those. You actually have a heart.” She sighs happily as she holds his gaze with her own. “So, I ask again, will you come back with us? For me?”

His smile wanes slightly and he nods after a second. “Yeah. It’s ultimately up to Ven, but I’ll take it up with him.”

“I see no reason for him to say no,” she says. “Just charm him, like you did before. Of all the people in this world, I think he hates you the least.” Kel’ori smiles and tucks a red lock behind his ear. “It’s impossible to not like you. You’re too sweet.”

His smile grows more reserved and he chuckles. “If you say so.” He looks past her into the fire beneath the kettle. “I’ll bring it up tomorrow.”

“I’d like that,” she says.

“You’re not fucking yet?” Koltira asks from the doorway.

Taveth, red nosed beside him, purses his lips awkwardly and sways his way through the room to the bedroom.

Baemalen jumps and turns to the doorway. He chuckles as though unfazed. “Not sure who this lovely lady named Yet is, but perhaps you could acquaint us.”

Kel’ori’s lower eyelid rises. “I think the three of you need to go dry out.”

Koltira rolls his eyes. “Or you can have a drink with us and quit being a bitch.”

Baemalen’s hand flies to his mouth in shock and he turns to look at the mage beside him. “I extend the same invitation. Only…more cordially?”

Kel’ori looks at the three of them, then at Bel’theas. “I’ll pass. You guys go have fun, though.” She sets her palm on Baemalen’s arm.

Baemalen shrugs and stands after flashing her a grin. “Don’t have to tell me twice.” He grabs a cup and a pair of worn ivory dice from the cabinet as well as another bottle. “We’ll take it outside lest we get too rowdy.” He hooks his arm through Koltira’s. “You coming, Tav?”

“You don’t have to go outside. It’s hot out there. And if you wake Bel, you can just be the one who gets their hair pulled.” Kel’ori gives him a daring grin.

“He is. We could go into the basement,” Koltira suggests. “Now that we don’t have prisoners.”

“Or everyone can cuddle with the ice block,” Taveth says as Koltira yanks him under an arm.

Baemalen lifts the bottle slightly in agreeance. “Basement it is. You and the small terror get some rest.” He grabs Taveth’s other arm and pulls him outside with Koltira’s assistance. “What does the winner get?” he slurs as he kicks the cellar door open.

Kel’ori pouts as she watches the men leave.

Koltira thinks on it. “Bragging rights?”

“Losers buy the winner drinks?” Taveth suggests as the bottle sloshes into his field of vision.

Baemalen stops at the bottom of the stairs as he sees the four lights in the darkness. “Oh. Guess this spot is taken.”

Grimory looks up, still tired and leaning against Alisbeth. “No. We can go upstairs if you guys want to hang out in this dank cellar for some reason.”

“Not as hot as outside and no risk of waking the…child,” Koltira says.

Grimory helps Alisbeth to her feet. “C’mon. Sit next to me in my hammock, yeah?” He leads her back up the stairs.

“Great!” Baemalen throws himself into the dirt and throws the dice. “Sixes.”

“Coulda stayed,” Taveth complains. “Wait, what are we playing?”

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